CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. --- A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-4 satellite, has launched into orbit. Liftoff occurred from Space Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 19, 2018 at 7:48 p.m. EST (January 20 at 12:48 a.m. UTC). Lockheed Martin reported shortly after launch that it had made contact with the satellite.
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 411 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter Payload Fairing (PLF). The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the AJ-60A solid rocket booster (SRB) and RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur upper stage.
ULA's next launch is the GOES-S mission for NASA and NOAA on an Atlas V rocket. The launch is scheduled for March 1 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The launch of SBIRS GEO-4 continues the replacement of the Defense Support Program (DSP) constellation, which has been in operation since 1970. The SBIRS GEO-1 was launched May 7, 2011, GEO-2 was launched on March 19, 2013, and GEO-3 lifted off on January 20, 2016.
After finally overcoming the hurdles that faced the program, SBIRS has entered its production phase. As such, Forecast International expects SBIRS GEO spacecraft to be delivered throughout the decade.
The Air Force has also begun investigating a follow-on to the SBIRS system. The service issued a Request for Information (RFI) in April 2014 to begin the process of gathering the necessary information to start development of a satellite network. That This was followed by the initiation of a new program, called Evolved SBIRS, in the FY18 budget that will focus work on new satellites.
The USAF is studying a number of options for SBIRS follow-ons. It will likely include a combination of complete satellites and hosted payloads. The service may also use a disaggregated mission profile, in which mission elements are will be split between multiple satellites.